“He defiled me. Tearing into my flesh as a beast would its prey. The light within, the pureness inside had been extinguished that night. The holy place, now corrupted, lay in ruins. Precious auras shattered as angels wept, leaving my broken soul to be still, crumbling into darkness. Yet no one knew. No one ‘could’ know. My lips were sewn shut with the same needle that had sewn countless other’s lips.” – 15-year old rape survivor recounting a sexual assault by a peer on a high school field trip
Sexual harassment/assault and gender-based discrimination in the school environment devastate students and their families. Tragically, the experience of one child quoted above is mirrored by far too many students. Not only do the survivors’ emotional and psychological scars endure long after the attack, their social lives, education, and career dreams are shattered. For some, the trauma is insurmountable; gender-based harassment and sexual assault have driven an increasing number of adolescent students to suicide.
Our schools are in crisis, according to research, media reports, and students who know all too well. In a national survey 81% of students (grades 8-11) reported experiencing sexual harassment during the school day. In another survey 87% of students reported that the sexual harassment had a negative effect on them. In addition, children in grades K-12 are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. Studies show that over 40% of female rape victims were assaulted before age 18. Girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape or sexual assault; 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics. The younger the victim, the more devastating the impact and greater vulnerability to repeated assault. However, regardless of whether the assault or harassment occurred at school or elsewhere, students’ have the right to an equal education under Title IX.
The Obama administration is visibly engaged in efforts in efforts to address sexual harassment/assault in schools. However, the majority of these measures target higher education institutions. These actions should also extend to the 55 million students enrolled nationwide in 130,000 K-12 schools. By educating younger students about sexual harassment/assault, we can safeguard their K-12 educational experience and reduce the likelihood of trauma when they are in college.
The mission of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) is: To educate students, families, and schools about the right to an equal education free from sexual harassment. We proactively address the epidemic of traumatic sexual harassment impacting our nation’s students. We provide students, K-12 schools, and organizations resources so that the right to an equal education is not compromised by sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination.
SSAIS is comprised of advocates, assault survivors and their families, academics, legal and sexual assault experts, teachers, parents, students, and everyday citizens who are passionate about youth well-being and educational equality. Despite the sexual assault epidemic raging in schools and colleges, families don’t think sexual assault and gender-based harassment can happen to their child. But because sexual harassment and assault can be any family’s nightmare, students and families must be educated about this substantial risk.
Survivors and their families consistently say that it’s impossible to fathom the nightmare of sexual assault unless personally experienced. To this emotional devastation add the destruction of the student’s education that occurs when a school district treats the victim as a second-class citizen or adversary. More often than not, the assault is denied, the victim is shamed and isolated, retaliation occurs, their student’s Title IX civil rights are violated, the student is too traumatized to return to school, and her/his education is destroyed. Who could believe that schools would treat students like this?
We founders of SSAIS are professional educators whose lives were thrown into chaos when our 15-year old daughter was sexually assaulted on a high school field trip. Through tireless advocacy, our successful Title IX complaint, social action, and media attention we succeeded in compelling the school district to reform its sexual harassment policy, comply with Title IX directives, and improve its safety procedures on school field trips. We know first-hand how sexual assault can devastate a family, and the desperate need for education and accountability in schools in the arena of sexual harassment and violence. We want to encourage ordinary people like us to take action in their own communities or beyond.
SSAIS is spearheading the movement for awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault in K-12 schools so we can prevent it, support victims, inform students about their rights, and empower them to protect their peers. Our website serves as a hub of information and site of our training materials (under development).
Sadly, in an era when school districts’ fear of liability for assault eclipses accountability, very few families are aware of their rights when sexual harassment and assault occurs. That’s because school districts themselves are rarely aware of their federally mandated obligations under Title IX to provide students with an equal education free of sexual harassment and thus fail to make their obligation known to their students.
To remedy this unacceptable situation, we provide students, schools, and organizations resources to promote the rights of students whose access to an equal education has been compromised by sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination. The right to an equal education is guaranteed by Title IX.
Our educational activities and trainings are aimed at informing students, families, and school administrators about:
- Preventing sexual harassment and assault in schools
- The rights of sexual assault/harassment victims and their families
- The responsibilities of schools in responding promptly, impartially, and effectively to reported sexual assault/harassment and remedying any resulting hostile environment
Our goal is to ensure that:
- Students understand their rights to an education free of sexual harassment and
- Students and their families understand their recourses in the aftermath of a
- School administrators understand and comply with regulations governing their
response to reported sexual assault/harassment
- Educational institutions understand that compassionate and nonjudgmental
support of victims is part of the healing process after an assault/harassment
We envision a multi-pronged, multimodal educational program aimed at students, families, and school staff and administration. We will involve students, teachers, administrators, counselors, rape prevention advocates, legal experts, and social work professionals in developing incisive courses on topics such as:
- Identifying and preventing sexual harassment and assault
- Responding to reported sexual assault, including the impact of trauma, the
potential for revictimization, and using nonjudgmental language
- Reporting acts of sexual assault, including confidentiality issues
- Title IX and schools’ obligations for responding to and investigating reported sexual harassment and assault
- Protecting victims of sexual harassment and assault from retaliation and hostile environments
- Sexual harassment/assault prevention
- Sexual harassment/assault victim counseling in schools
- Therapeutic support for sexual harassment/assault victims
- Implementation of Title IX requirements in schools
- Investigation of reported sexual harassment/assault
- Issues unique to LGBTQ+, diverse ethnic/faith groups, expectant/parenting students, and others
SSAIS also offers programs, including student advocacy, peer mentoring, activism, community service, and internships to raise awareness, to protect students’ safety, and promote a healthy education free from the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault.
SSAIS has opportunities for advisors, advocates, teachers, parents, interns, and students who share a commitment to combatting sexual violence/harassment and its aftermath in schools. Everyone has a unique talent to contribute to this movement, even from home.
Learn about our work, share our mission, and participate in this groundbreaking movement on behalf of K-12 students. We welcome your input.
SSAIS is a federal 501 (c) (3) public charity.